Installing the New Bees

Our new honeybees arrived this week.

We picked them up Monday evening, having made an appointment for pick-up and advised to arrive with protective gear—not to protect us from the bees, but to protect humans from each other. So, with our corona masks in place and our hands in thin vinyl gloves, we exited the truck. A solitary human stood about twenty feet away and told us to select two boxes from the many that were set up in the yard. We grabbed our two boxes, placed them into the truck (friendly human had disappeared), and drove home.

Safely back home, we took the bees to the bee yard. Since it was now about 8:00 p.m. and dark, we lay the boxes in their spots, checked to make sure the electric fence was turned on, and left them for the night.

Early in the morning Mr. BeeMan visited the bees to unplug the boxes so the bees could come and go. He also took the cleaned and freshly painted hives to the yard and put them in place. We had a narrow window between sunrise and morning rain to install the bees into the hives.

The boxes of bees that we bought are nucs, that is, the nucleus of a hive. Each nuc contains five frames with a laying queen, brood, honey, and lots of worker bees. Those frames are placed into the brood box. Then we add five empty frames to complete the box. The hive has room to grow.

Five frames from the nuc go into the brood box. This frame has capped honey on it.

As we transfer the bees to the brood box, we take a good look. We would love to see the queen, but she is often protected and hidden. In place of seeing the queen, we look for evidence of a queen—brood. In the frames we find honey, capped brood, and uncapped brood. Uncapped brood was most recently laid, so that is a good sign that there is (or very recently was) a laying queen. In subsequent hive inspections we will continue to look for the queen and fresh brood.

You can see the bee larva in the uncapped cells. You can also see that I need a better camera if I’m going to try macro shots like this!

After inserting the frames, Mr. BeeMan closes up the hives. We get this done just as the first drops of rain begin to fall. The bees are tucked in to their new home.

Finally, the lid goes on.

The next day, in a break from the rain, I visited the bees and watched as they circled the hives in orienting flights. Somehow, this sets their internal GPS so they know how to find their way home. It wasn’t long before we began seeing our girls around. They arrived just in time to pollinate our blueberries!

Teaching From Home: One Month In

Good news!  A month of teaching from home has not killed me. It came close in Week Three, with my resting heart rate mounting from stress and an allergy medication contributing side effects of anxiety and depression.  But the doc released me from the allergy med and we got –dramatic pause– Spring Break!

I don’t know that I have ever so much needed to step back from the craziness and unplug.  Oh, I did a little schoolwork, but it was good to stop running at full speed and recharge for what will most likely be the long haul to the end of the school year.

One weird result of the break from teaching during Coronapocalypse was that I actually missed the structure and busy-ness of the teaching week.  An unending list of potential indoor and outdoor projects did not disguise the fact that I was stuck at home. Other than a grocery run and a disguised outing as the Easter Bunny (complete with mask and gloves), I had a lot of time to be with myself.  And I was pretty boring.

When school resumed this week, my students felt the same way.  They had to admit that without anything else to do, they missed the structure of the school day and the strange disconnected connectedness of meeting online. And so, in the absence of our old normal, we tentatively begin to accept the new situation.

Here are a few things that are making life doable:

Orderly work space

A critical project during the break was to deep clean and organize my office. Windows and curtains are clean. New blinds hung. A huge bag of clutter went out in the trash. All my curriculum materials sit in organized stacks on the shelf. A new microphone headset arrived. The command post is in truly functional order. The room looks good.  I actually like being in it. And guess what? After a week of teaching it is still in functional order! Order in my space does wonders for keeping the craziness at bay.

Plan for the week

The worst part of the first week of Corona Teaching was reworking each of my five lessons every night for the next day.  My normal routine had been to work out the week’s road map by the Friday before.  The last thing I did every Friday before leaving school was to post the week sheet on the class page.  Then I left the building, drove an hour home, and enjoyed my weekend.  Now, teaching from home, it is not sustainable to spend every waking minute thinking  about school when the “classroom” is just behind a closed door.

A major Corona Teaching Victory came when I posted my week sheets on the class pages at the end of the day before spring break. It was a huge relief to resume that normal rhythm.  My students and I are used to that.  It saves all of us time and frustration–one document is posted and we all know where to find it.  Of course, we can get derailed during the week. But we can address the changes the way we always did– in (online) class and by posting announcements.

Plan for the new reality

I teach foreign language.   I can’t just assign pages of reading and comprehension  exercises followed by a quiz. Language learning is a skill. While the students have access to technology to enable them to read and write and listen and speak assignments to me, it cannot really replicate what goes on in class.

Even with live online class meetings, we are not physically in class.  The give and take online is not the same as in the classroom.  So, the regular lesson has to morph into a new thing.

Mini-lessons

My lessons are morphing into a simple pattern:

  • Things we need to do together
  • Things they can do on their own

Live classes start with a mini-lesson where I present or explain material that is new or challenging.  That will segue to an oral activity.  I assign each student an example in an exercise, give them think time, and then call on them just as I would in class.  If it would have  been a partner activity in class, I play the role of the partner when I call on them.  Not ideal, but at least, I can hear where the problems are.  Then, that activity is often assigned again as a written activity.

Live classes end with everyone understanding their marching orders. If students have no questions, they are free to leave. Students who want answers to questions hang around.

Connecting students to my homescreen

I felt like a magician when I figured out how to display my homescreen on the students’ screens during a live meet.  It opened up all sorts of possibilities! So far, I have tried the following:

  • Displaying the online textbook page while I explain a topic.  It is so much better to have them staring at the page while my cursor squiggles around pointing to things than for them to stare at my face talking about it.  And when we work on an exercise in the book, I can point to the words the student is struggling with.
  • PowerPoints. It is so much better to move the slides for them, than to talk at them and tell them to move to the next slide on their device.
  • Kahoot! I use Kahoot a lot in class and immediately began using it as a self-paced non-timed comprehension activity. But now! Now, we can play a Kahoot together.  It doesn’t have quite the same rowdy effect when everyone is sitting in their own homes, but it is still interactive.
  • Online video/YouTube.   I successfully showed students a video from the curriculum, just to start a lesson.  They could have watched it on their own, but I wanted to “watch” it with them.  In another class, I had a epic fail trying to watch a YouTube video.  I watched it fine on my end, but they saw and heard absolutely nothing.  I’m pretty sure I clicked the wrong screen when I did that.  Oops.

Tossing redundant activities

Once upon a time, during normal teaching, there was classwork and there was homework. Homework generally replicated what was done in class.  Now, there is no classwork vs homework.  There is just work.  As lessons morph, I look at each activity and remind myself:

  • Do not cram too many new ideas into one day.
  • Do not assign the same type of activity twice in a lesson.
  • Assign only activities that actively advance mastery of the topic.
  • Less is more–choose quality over quantity.
  • Let go of the expectation that you will cover everything this year.

Respecting and managing time–theirs and mine

A few ideas are guiding me in respecting and managing time:

  • Set a reasonable workload. Live class plus written activities should not exceed normal class time plus normal homework. Ideally, if redundant activities have been pulled, students should spend less time on my class.
  • Have firm expectations for students. Students should respect our class time and assignment deadlines. I am not  teaching an open-ended correspondance course.
  • But be flexible.  Some students will struggle with doing school this way.  At this point in the year, I know who the most likely strugglers are.  And I know who the lazy bums are, too. Grace to the strugglers.  Zeros to lazy bums.

We are figuring this out. It is not at all perfect.  Some students are still very casual about attending live class and meeting assignment deadlines. Tech challenges are real. Family demands are real. Teenage attitudes are just as real as they ever were.

What am I missing right now?  

This crazy 2020 has become the year of the essential.  The essential worker.  The essential work.  Right now, I am missing the fluff and fun of class.  Movie days.  April Fool’s fish. French restaurant field trip.  I may very well end the year covering most of what I normally teach.  Why? Because I have cut out anything that is not essential.

And that is going to get boring.  I’ll have to think about that.

What am I happy about?

  • So far, the students are scoring as well from home as they did in class.  (Or as bad, depending on the student.) So I do not see anyone suffering academically because of this change.
  • Because I am giving points for everything they do (which would not have happened with spot checks in class), the less-than-stellar students are probably doing more work than they ever did before!  There is nothing so motivating to these kids (or their parents!) as a zero.
  • Distance learning has taken on real meaning as several of my international students went back home and are now checking in to class every day from South Korea!

 

 

Teaching From Home: Setting the Pace in Week Two

 

There are a lot of runners in my family.

You could say it runs in the family.

Sorry.

Not.

I am not one of them. I walk. But I still know the difference between a sprint and a marathon. This COVID-19 teaching experience is a marathon like no other. And we don’t even know where the finish line is.

The first week of online teaching nearly killed me. Or to be more precise, it became quickly apparent that it would kill me if I did not make changes. The first week, I charged off at full speed at the sound of the starter’s pistol—without knowing what race we were running.

Week Two was about finding survival techniques for what we now realize is a marathon. To survive teaching in the coronapocalypse, I am looking at three things: pacing, boundaries, and personal health.

Pacing

Online teaching is taking much more prep time. This is frustrating for someone like me, with decades of teaching experience and who was in a happy routine of tweaking things. Now, it is like starting a brand new job. I need more think time.

This past week, I gave my students and myself some breathing room. For my classes that do independent reading, I gave them all reading day on Wednesday. For my lower level French students, I gave them a link to take a walk in Paris. It was a rainy day and the three hour YouTube video was great for putting in some treadmill time. (No, I did not assign three hours of walking.) The benefit to me was a day without students checking in. My devices did not ding at me all day long. I had bigger stretches of uninterrupted time to think.

And so, a conundrum emerged this week. At the same time that I am increasing face-to-face meetings with my students, I am also pondering ways to give them longer stretches to get work done. This, realistically, is not going to happen much in my French 1 and 2 classes, where they can only handle one new concept at a time and need daily feedback. But French 3 and 4/5 can handle two day stretches. The Advanced ESL English class, starting their first research project ever…..well, yeah, still pondering that.

Mercifully, my amazing, awesome, best-ever boss has heard the cries of students and teachers. Effective this week, we will be teaching four days a week, with Friday as a catch-up day to plan or just to breathe. I have often told my students that I would gladly put in a longer day four days a week in order to have three day weekends every week. Who knew it would take a pandemic to make that happen?

So, pacing involves slowing down for the long haul. Assign smaller, manageable chunks of material. Give myself necessary think time. And give the students space. The students are not only being expected to keep up with their school work, but they need time to process this whole crazy life change, too. And they have to do it at home, with whatever dysfunctions come along with that.

Boundaries

I am a firm believer in setting boundaries. Up until now, I had a great work routine in which I did all my work at home, drove my thirty mile commute, and arrived home with my day tucked behind me. Now it is here in the house with me. All. The. Time. I never thought I would miss that thirty mile commute.

Boundary #1: The Office

I am fortunate to have an empty nest. Oh. So. Fortunate. Not only are there not little people in my face all day with their little needs and demands, but I have whole rooms of the house I have reclaimed for other purposes! One of those rooms is my office.

I do my schoolwork in my office. Only in the office. Not in the kitchen. Not on the sofa in the family room. Most definitely not in the bedroom. When I am working, I am in the office. When I am not in the office, I am not working.

The little glitch with this scenario is that I have not actively worked in the office in a while. So it is a bit disorganized. And not as clean as I would like. In fact, the mini-blinds are really gross. I have been meaning to replace them with the same blinds as in my bedroom, but never got around to it because, well, I just wasn’t sitting in there that much. So last night I went online and ordered the blinds—at 30% off! Woo hoo!

Boundary #2: Office hours.

I am available to my students during their normal class hours. If they contact me during another class period, I ignore them. Likewise, I expect them to be available to me during their normal class hours. This one has been a little trickier. A few have had internet glitches during our face-to-face meetings. How do I know it is a real glitch and not a lame excuse? A student with a real glitch contacts me ASAP in a panic saying he cannot get on. A lame excuse dribbles in many hours later with a “Sorry, I couldn’t get on.” A true hours-later tech glitch comes with a parent email verifying the problem. See? I know teenagers.

Boundary #3: Calling it a Day

While this new teaching day is taking me longer than my normal teaching day, it cannot consume every waking hour of the day. I need to call it quits at some point. My goal is to finish by dinnertime. My goal is to relax with my husband in the evening—even if it is our usual goofy scenario where we sit in the same room watching different movies on different devices! I did not quite meet that goal this week, but I did a whole lot better than in Week One!

Boundary #4: Reclaiming the Sabbath

In my old normal, I worked really hard during the week to get all my work done before I left school on Friday. The past two weeks, I have spent most of the weekend planning. (It did not help that I sort of forgot that third quarter ended this week and that grades were due Friday morning!) After only two weeks, I am desperately feeling the need for the day of rest. I need to power off.

Personal Health

Pacing and boundaries were immediate needs for my physical and mental health. But there are other things I am doing to keep myself from falling apart.  The last thing I want is to get sick now.  And the very, very last thing I want to do is to stand in the prescription line at Target.  The. Worst. Thing. Ever.

1. I take a shower, do my hair, and put on make-up. To a certain extent, I have to. There is no way I am facing my students online looking like Saturday morning! But I did so even on Saturday. Why? Because even I don’t want to look at Saturday morning me.

2. I take mini-breaks between online classes to do mini-laps around the house. In the normal classroom, I am on my feet and moving around a lot. Now I find I am glued to the chair at the computer. I have to move! I also need the little mental break.

3. Weather permitting, I eat my lunch outside. Last week, I sat on the side porch in a sweatshirt with a scarf wrapped around my neck. With the exception of the sweatshirt, it was très français. The sunshine felt so good and I need all the vitamin D I can get. Plus, it was a mental break from my office.

4. I do something more physical at the end of the school day. This is where the lack of a commute is really helping me. At 3:00 I charge outside to do gardening or take a walk. On the rainy days, I have a lovely Paris Walking Tour to perk up a walk on the treadmill. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xE3lpCIgeI)  

5. I allow myself rest. All that charging and mini-lapping is to manage the stress and all the adrenaline flooding my body. The fact is, I am tired. And I need a break from technology. A nap is good. And a paper book to read is really good.

 

Heading into Week Three

My goals for this week ?

Rest more. To quote the eminent philosopher Winnie the Pooh: “Let’s begin with a smallish nap or two.”

But also, grade the work I ignored this week because I was frantically wrapping up third quarter!

Because of the sprint we all did last week at our school, we can have our regularly scheduled Spring Break next week. Only four days to go. Easter break has never looked so good!

Teaching from Home: We Survived Week One

We did it—my students and I got through our first week of school from home! The learning curve has been steep but, with the weekend’s respite from students, I may get beyond the feeling of treading water to actual swimming.

Image result for Clip Art treading water

THE KICK-OFF

 

Half the stress of this week was due to the shock of implementing it so quickly. A day after our faculty meeting where we were told to be thinking how to teach remotely, the governor announced that schools would be closed effective Monday. That gave us Friday to put a plan in place.

Fortunately, much of the plan was already in place:

  • Online class pages. Our school uses PowerSchool. Now, did students ever actually use the class pages? Of course not! That is why PowerSchool class pages had a melt-down this week. I doesn’t take a tech genius to figure out that, if a site user goes from zero views a week to over 7 views a day, things will crash. Which is why I had built in redundancy…

 

  • Online Assignment Submission. I use Showbie. My students have been submitting documents, audio and video files, and photos regularly via Showbie for a long time.  If the class page goes down, they  can still look on Showbie to see what is due and when.  And I can grade their work right there. Showbie is a normal routine for them.

 

  •  Online curriculum. Three of my French classes have online resources through my.hrw.com, which includes the text, audio files and videos for the students, and all my  teacher supplements–which I can copy to Showbie! Without this, I can not even imagine trying to teach my French classes from home. The  my.hrw.com site is supposed to be a normal routine for them, but since each student also has a hard-copy text at home, we had to reset three student passwords last Friday for students who could not log in.

I had to add one more component to my online classroom, but it was actually already in place:

  • Microsoft Teams. Every class became a Team.  Our tech guy, Eddie, has been telling us for years how wonderful the Microsoft Office tools were and how all our students had access to all this stuff via their school email.  For the most part, we smiled and nodded while Eddie shook his head and sighed.  He does that a lot.

JUMPING IN

It only took three days for Wine-free Lent to get tossed by the wayside.  Two-days, really, but Day 2 was St. Patrick’s Day which has always been a feast day from fasting in my family. All the sunshine and yard work I can do is not enough to handle the stress of this new routine this week.

                                       Image result for  free clip art drinking wine

One colleague said she feels like an octopus, with eight arms flailing in all directions. Another feels like she is playing Whack-a-Mole with all the messages coming at her from students. Setting up completely new routines and reformatting lessons has been overwhelming. Was it just a week ago that Maryland’s Governor Hogan announced the school closures? Have we stepped into an alternate universe? Um, yes to both.

                                      Image result for  free clip art whack a mole

By the end of the week I look  back on the following successes:

  •  I have a routine–I follow the class bell schedule. During any given class period, I focus my attention on that class only.  I interact with those students and their work.
  • My students have caught on to the routine. They check in with the Team at the start of their class period and answer at least the following questions:
    •  Have you posted  your work?
    • Have you read the instructions for what to do today?
    •  Do you have any questions?
    •  They may have also have a discussion question to post and reply to.  It’s like a warm-up to review what they learned yesterday.  
  •  I have been able to supply pretty much all resources I would have given the students in class.  Except in-person me.  More on that later.
  • Most–not all–students are keeping up with the schedule of work.  It took a bit of nudging for some.  One student, who was being lackadaisical about posting his work, explained, “This was why I stopped home-schooling.” My retort to him: “This is not home-school. This is SCHOOL –from home.”  One of his classmates commented with a heart.  The student, I am proud to say, has been most diligent since then!
  • Students are letting me know what is not working for them. 
    • Kahoot activities need to be done without a timer so students can think before answering.  Thanks to the free upgrade to pro, I  can give them untimed activities.
    • Internet and wi-fi problems are making it difficult for some to post by deadlines.  I need to set longer deadlines and be gracious with students who have tech problems.
    • Audio and video resources are great, but there is no substitute from hearing things straight from the teacher, hence…

LOOKING TO NEXT WEEK

  1. Team Meetings. The math teachers jumped into this almost immediately, but it took me the week and a student plea for help to realize that face-to-face interaction has to happen. A colleague and I practiced a Team Meeting on Friday and discovered that it was actually ok!  I’ve scheduled my first one for 10:15 Monday. The biggest glitch I am fearing is the formatting difference I see between the laptop and the ipad.
  2. More time to think and less stress in lesson planning. As I get my plans organized for this coming week, I am planning them for the online platform.  Last week, I was reworking the plans that I had already organized for the classroom.  I was working minute-by-minute, flying by the seat of my pants. (By the way, what does that metaphor actually refer to?) This week, my posted week sheet will contain exactly what I will post for the daily announcements.  Copy and paste daily.  Woo hoo.
  3. Reminders to self to give breathing room to myself and to the students.  I asked French 1 what they were “going to do” or “not going to do” this weekend, since they learned that this week. Several said that they were going to study.  I was totally fried by Friday.  This was a rough week.  Successful, but intense.  I don’t want my students to spend  the weekend doing schoolwork. So, here’s my list to myself to help us have breathing room and not burn out:
    • Independent reading days for my upper level students.  I may plan them all for the same day to give ME some space.
    • Virtual field trips.  I want to give space between hard lessons with something fun yet interesting. Versailles and Monet’s Gardens are offering virtual  tours, for example.  The Louvre tour might actually be better than the crowd-crushing experience of trying to see the Mona Lisa in person! Really, though, I’d like to find something more fun than a museum tour.
    • Let go of the expectation of covering all the material I would normally cover in class.  
    • Don’t introduce too many new things at once.  I can’t handle it.  The students can’t either.

This week, I felt very much like a rabbit leaping off into a race.  It is hard to think like the tortoise, slow and steady, when there’s COVIC-19 nipping at your heels.  I recall my pet name for my students –squirrels. My students are like squirrels–all over the place in any given minute. I have to stay slow and steady because many of them haven’t a clue how to do it.  This week I had only half a clue.  Next week?  I am aiming for one clue.

Image result for free clipart tortoise and hareImage result for free clipart tortoise and hare See the source image

Propolis: Bane of the Beekeeper’s Wife

There are many things that set me off on a rant but the worst ones involve Any Other Person messing up My Stuff. It doesn’t have to technically be my stuff. If I use it and/or clean it, it counts as mine.

Any beekeeper wife will agree that beekeeping presents some challenges with protecting stuff. For instance, you can not melt wax using any pots or utensils you ever again would want to use for food prep. And even then, there are better and not better ways to clean up the wax tools. But the worst offender by far is propolis, the sticky stuff that bees use to seal up nooks, cracks, and crannies in the hive. It is all over the top and bottom edges of the honey boxes. And then it gets on everything else.

And it won’t come off. Clothing, countertops, floor, you name it, if propolis was there it will stick there.

Sunday, our newest junior beekeeper donned the junior-sized bee-suit to watch PopPop BeeMan pull a honey box from Hive 2. His sister stayed back at the house and joined in to watch the honey spin and be bottled. They learned quite a bit about the honey harvesting process.

Seth uses the smoker

They also learned that MomMom does not like to share.

BeeMan had used a bee escape to minimize the number of bees in the honey box. It’s a clever contraption that allows bees to go down to the hive box at night but then they can’t figure out how to get back upstairs. It’s a great way to bring the honey home without a couple thousand accompanying bees. Nevertheless, there were still some bees that made it back to the house with the honey. BeeMan blew off those he could with my new leaf blower but, still, a few made it into the mudroom where we process the honey and they were buzzing around the room.

Checking out the bees on the bee escape

What to do with buzzing bees inside? Vacuum them. BeeMan got the hand vac, but it was not sufficiently charged. So he asked for the vacuum.

Oh. No. Absolutely Not.

I explained to the children that I just bought a wonderful new Shark vacuum and have used it only two weeks. BeeMan may not get sticky bee glop on My Brand New Vacuum.

There is, however, a fully functioning old vacuum in the basement for BeeMan to use for any vacuuming needs he might have. So he sucked up the stray bees who continued to buzz in the dust bin while the children worried for their health.

Fast forward to today. The old vacuum still sits in the mudroom, the captive bees now dead. (Don’t tell the kids.) I have moved on to another project– cleaning out bathroom cabinets in preparation for painting them. I grab the hand vac from the charger. You know, the hand vac that BeeMan didn’t use because it wasn’t fully charged?

He didn’t use it.

He touched it.

The handle is all gooped up with propolis.

Arrrrghhh!

Propolis on My Stuff

But the internet is a wonderful thing. Rusty at Honey Bee Suite discovered that propolis can be removed from a camera with isopropyl alcohol. Well, having just emptied all the contents of the bathroom cabinet, I happen to know that I have isopropyl alcohol (and two bottles of witch hazel and more bottles of lotions, creams, and ointments than I know what to do with). Right at my feet. In one of these eight bags of stuff. Oh, there’s a whole bag of cotton balls, too.

Three cotton balls later, the hand vac is sparkly clean– and sanitized, too. It was super easy. This is great! Now, after we are done harvesting honey, I can use alcohol to de-goop the counters and floor. Despair is lifted. I can return to the bathroom project.

No more propolis!

But first, I better go inspect the leaf blower.

The First of This Year’s Honey: Beating the Bear

We pulled four frames of honey today. They were capped and we are so afraid that the local bear will defeat our electric fence and get to the hives again that we decided to pull some honey as soon as possible.

Those of you familiar with our bear escapades will remember that last year the bear came by three times, knocking the hives over without managing to procure any honey. The bees were pretty traumatized, though, and took out their anxiety on Mr. Beeman, buzzing at him with a ferocity he had never seen.

Beeman, understandably, does not want to lose any honey to this bear.

Early this week, we noticed that one hive had some frames that were capped. Yesterday, Beeman put a bee escape on that hive to prepare for taking the frames. A bee escape is a maze-like board that goes between the top box and the next box down in the hive. At night, the bees go “downstairs” where the queen is. With the bee escape, the bees can go down, but they can’t figure out how to get back up. That leaves the top box relatively bee-free, which makes it a whole lot easier to take the box. Ha! We are smarter than the average bear.

Bee escape

Well, mostly smarter than the average bear. Beeman forgot to plug the electric fence back in after adding the bee escape. He remembered at 3 a.m. Talk about an electric jolt! He jumped out of bed to plug in the cord and then made his way by cellphone light to the bee yard to make sure the hives were still intact. If any bear were in the vicinity, the sight of Beeman in the woods in his underwear at 3 a.m. would have scared him away, for sure!

We spun the frames in our new-last-year electric spinner. It is much more efficient than hand-cranking, although it doesn’t provide quite the same upper arm workout.

Today’s honey is much lighter than last year’s. Last year’s honey had the strong molasses-like taste of tulip poplar. This year, the honey is lighter and more delicate with definite wild berry overtones. No surprise, since we have been picking blueberries by the bucket and tons of wild raspberries are just now ripening. (I just have to figure out how to beat the deer to those berries!)

The air has also been aromatic with wild rose, honeysuckle, and, recently, the oak leaf hydrangea, which is evidently a pollen feast for every pollinator in the area. They have been all over it!

So, 2018 was robust and 2019 is more delicate. Yum to both!

Oops, No Queen: Recombining a Hive

A few weeks ago, in the midst of the spring nectar flow, with queen cells popping up everywhere, BeeMan decided to split a hive using some of the unwanted queen cells. The three other hives, with more room to grow and no longer honey-bound, resumed laying eggs and all is well.

Honey-bound is when the bees are so busy bringing nectar and pollen to the hive that there is no room for baby bees. The solution for the bees is to swarm. BeeMan averted the swarm by adding more boxes with frames and by providing empty frames in the queen box for the queen to lay eggs.. Having no longer a need to swarm, the queen would kill off any pretenders to the throne. And then, she would resume laying.

And that is what happened. The three original hives are busily filling the frames with brood and honey.

The split, however, never managed to produce a queen. BeeMan surmises that the queen cells he gave them were not viable. The queen from the original hive may have stung them before he created new hive. Why does he think this? He had taken a couple of queen cells back to the house and opened them. They were not alive.

Today’s mission in the bee yard was two-fold: recombine the split with its original hive and check to see if honey is ready to be harvested.

Combining the hives was pretty simple. Put the queen-less box on top of the original hive. Ah, but not that simple. The new bees in the original hive will not recognize the bees that had left. To make for a happy transition, a layer of newspaper goes between the two boxes. The bees will get used to their smells as they eat through the paper and become one big family.

And what about the bees who were out foraging when the hives were combined? They come back home to discover that home is not where they left it!

BeeMan says they hopefully will smell their group and find their way to the right hive. I certainly hope so!

As for the honey harvest, one large honey box on the third hive is ready to go! The other two hives have filled out frames but have not capped all the honey cells yet. We plan to go back into the third hive later this week for the first box of honey.

What’s the rush? Usually we wait until the end of July, but with a bear lurking in the area, we want to be sure the honey ends up in our tummies, not his!

Bear print on our property. Photo by Rich DeMarco.

Swarm Season

Tulip poplar blossom

One of our bees on a wild rose

Maywood is in its glory as the May woods blossom with tulip poplars, black locust, and wild roses. The bees have already had their fill of red maple and skunk cabbage and purple dead nettle, a pretty purple-flowering ground cover that brought in bright red pollen.

Yesterday we went in to the bees for the first time in a month and discovered exactly what we found this time a year ago–queen cells, drone cells, capped brood but no larva, and no visible queen.

A year ago, at the beginning of the rainiest year ever in Maryland, the condition of the hives sent us into a near panic. These were brand new nucs. Had we gotten poor queens–again? We did some quick research and managed to avoid two swarms while getting, in the process, a third hive by creating a split with some frames containing queen cells. What the heck, if it didn’t work, we would still have our two hives. But it did work, and the three hives made it not only through the summer, but through the winter, too! This was the first winter in years that we brought all the hives through the winter.

Last year, the rainy weekends kept us from keeping a closer check on the hives. This year it was a combination of rain, cold, and Mother’s Day that kept us away. At our April check, BeeMan put queen excluders and honey boxes on the three hives, happy that the bees had plenty of room to expand.

Hive A, the only hive with its original queen, had been thriving the least of the three. In April we saw the queen (that I had beautifully marked in green last year!) and lots of active laying, but they had done the least to fill up the hive. So, yesterday, we were dismayed to not find her. Hives B and C had lots of baby bees in progress last month, even though we did not see their (as yet unmarked) queens.

Green dot marks last year’s queen

While we inspected Hive A, a queen cell broke as BeeMan pulled out a frame. Out emerged a brand new queen, not that we recognized her at first. She ended up with some other bees in my plastic tub with the burr comb I’m saving. We were almost ready to close up the hive when I got a better look at her.

“Hey, I think this is a queen!”

Sure enough, the young virgin queen with her slender abdomen was wandering around the plastic tub. (Kind of like humans, the women are slender until they get fat with babies and stay that way forever. The queen gets one wild fling a mile up in the air with all the drones she can handle, and then she is just an egg-laying machine, confined to the hive to reproduce for the rest of the life. She doesn’t even get a career.)

The young queen was easy to trap and mark and plop back into the hive. Alas, I still only have the one green marking pen, so both the old queen and the new queen wear green dots. The new queen has a more delicate dot, since I did a better job this year. So, are there two queens in the hive about to fight to the death? Or just the new one? Our next hive check may tell.

Peanut shaped thing hanging off the bottom of the frame is a queen cell

Hive B was very active and full and looking more like it wanted to swarm than to replace a queen. The top box was all honey, so we were assured that the queen was in the bottom box when the excluder went on. BeeMan decided to make a split, taking two frames with queen and brood cells, two frames with honey/nectar, and three empty frames to start a new hive. He will add more empty frames soon. There are still queen cells in the original hives but since we did not see the queen, we were afraid to destroy them. He added another honey box so they have more room.

Hive C was also very active and looking more swarm ready. BeeMan, on a hunch that the queen was probably still in there, got rid of all the queen cells and added another honey box.

The advantage of having several hives is being able to try different things and see what works. We learned a lot last year. Let’s hope that we learned enough!

BeeMan in the bee yard within the bear fence

Where’s Mom?

When we were little, my siblings and I used to do hide-and-seek with my mother. It wasn’t a game. She was really hiding. And we were seeking. It was a big house–three floors plus a basement–and as we climbed the stairs calling, “Mom! Mooooooooooooommmmmmm!” we were sure that she must have gone down to one floor while we were ascending to another. Years later, when we were in high school ( and a smaller house), we learned that Mom had been hiding in her walk-in closet. It was her only refuge. We always found her if she tried to sneak a minute of peace in the bathroom.

My cell phone rings. It’s my sister. The one who wasn’t born yet when Mom played hide-and-seek.

“Where’s Mom?”

First thought: How the heck should I know?
Second thought: It’s the day she volunteers at the soup kitchen, but she would have been home hours ago. Maybe she’s napping.

“I’ve been texting and calling her for days and she doesn’t respond.”

First thought: She’s lying on the floor of her condo unresponsive and/ or dead.
Second thought: My sister is calling me because she’s having the same first thought. She could just go over to Mom’s and let herself in, but she’s calling me because she doesn’t want to go over there by herself. She wants me to go with her and call 911 and read the advance directive that Mom has posted on the fridge.

“She was alive on Sunday, ” I say. “She rsvp’d for Thanksgiving.”

“I know,” my sister says, ” I saw that she signed up, but she hasn’t responded to me since.” (We use an online sign up program, so everyone coming to Thanksgiving knows that Mom is bringing shrimp and her famous Vienna Cake.)

Ok. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. I saw her sign up post but haven’t talked to her for a couple of weeks.. Days have passed with no word from her.
Oh wait…was this the week she was going on a bus trip to West Virginia with her church friends? Or did she already go on that trip? I talked to her about a trip…wait…that was the trip to Cape Cod. The trip where none of the other travelers drank and she felt awkward having her vodka at dinner.
More guilt. I should know if this is the week she is going to West Virginia. I should have it marked on all my calendars in bold letters: MOM IN WEST VIRGINIA.
I tell my sister, ” This might be the week she’s on a trip to West Virginia.”

“Why doesn’t she tell people these things?”

“She told me.”

“She should tell more people.”

“I think she doesn’t so that we will have to get worried and call each other.”

“Well, I am nearly hysterical with worry!” says the sister who decades ago called Mom in post-partum distress threatening to harm someone. Mom flew in her car to save the baby from a crazed mother. When she arrived, the baby was quietly settled down for a nap while my sister calmly prepared a cup of tea.

“You do have a history of overreacting.”

“Wait…she’s texting me. She’s in West Virginia. I have to go. I’m going to call her and yell at her for scaring me.”

Poor Mom. She has forgotten the most important part of hide-and-seek….stay hidden.

Les Rûches de Notre Dame and the Prize of Paris Honey: Beekeepers Go to Paris

montmartre

I took this photo because a student bought a painting of it. Came home to realize that I bought the same scene three years ago!

We were dining in Montmartre when the news broke that Notre Dame was on fire. Almost instantly, our phones began dinging with texts from back home. 

“Notre Dame is on fire!”

“Where are you? Are you ok?”

Concern for our well-being came with snarky comments, too: “Was John smoking cigars in the restroom at Notre Dame?”

“We are fine! We did not do it!”

After dinner, we made our way to the steps of Sacre Coeur, the highest point in Paris, where we joined many others in dismay to watch the glow of a historical treasure burning into the night. We stayed up there until 11:00 p.m. to give our group their first glimpse of the twinkling Tour Eiffel, but the Tour Eiffel did not twinkle that night.

Addison Mueller's photo of Notre Dame burning

Notre Dame as seen from the steps at Sacre Coeur. Photo by Addison Mueller, a student on our tour.

Our initial fear for the structure of the cathedral gave way to concern for the bees of Notre Dame.  We knew that three hives were kept on the roof of Notre Dame, but the roof was now gone!  Fortunately, the hives were not kept on the very top of the cathedral (that would be a bit difficult to manage!), but rather, thirty meters lower on roof of the sacristy on the north side of the cathedral.  The sacristy did not burn; however, Notre Dame beekeeper Nicholas Geant had concern for the temperature near the hives. The bees would be doomed by melting wax as much as by flame.https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/19/europe/notre-dame-bees-fire-intl-scli/index.html

Miraculously,  the bees were not harmed by flame, heat, or water.  Drone footage and video by those with access to the roof show the bees zipping hither and yon as usual. (Now the question is when the beekeeper will be permitted to tend to the hives.  Spring is a very busy time for beekeepers as well as bees!) 

The fire at Notre Dame affected, but did not diminish, our trip.  We had planned to attend a Tenebrae service on Holy Thursday.  Instead, we took our group to see the magnificent stained glass at Sainte Chapelle, built in the 13th century to house the Crown of Thorns relic which was rescued from the burning Notre Dame.

Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle

 

Streets near Notre Dame were blocked and some metro stops were closed, which made getting to dinner in the Latin Quarter less direct, but we had only one glitch, when our guide had us going the wrong direction on the metro!  Good thing our group knew to follow the listing of metro stops posted on the train!

“Hey, Bibi! Aren’t we going the wrong way?”

“Oh! Yes! We are! Everyone off at the next stop!”  

And just like that, our group of twenty-three hopped off and turned around to go toward the Latin Quarter.  At dinner, our waiter told us of the cinders that fell just outside the restaurant when the spire of Notre Dame crashed in flames.

Our Seine River cruise detoured to avoid making its usual circuit around Notre Dame on Ile St. Louis, but we still got plenty of photos of a now-twinkling Tour Eiffel.

Tour Eiffel with full moon

 

But amidst all the usual touristy stops, Beekeeper John and Beekeeper Wife Me were in search of honey.  Our first stop, at the Opéra Garnier, yielded nothing.  The honey from the hives on the roof of the Opéra had sold out quickly after last summer’s  harvest.

Opéra Garnier roofline

Opéra Garnier, home of the Phantom of the Opéra and some beehives

 

We had more success in Giverny at Monet’s Gardens.  John found a sticky jar of Normandy honey in the gift shop. I gave him grief for selecting a sticky jar, but he assured me that all the jars were sticky.  Ah, what a homey touch! (I would have wiped the jars before selling them in a gift shop!)

Monet house & gardens in Giverny

Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny

My coup came at the unlikeliest of places–the Paris Catacombs.  My students had added this to our itinerary and waited patiently–and even happily–in line for three and a half hours–yes, 3.5 hours–to climb down and up over 200 steps to see the bones of 6 million Parisians arranged in artistic patterns.  The drama teacher sang creepy stage songs and multiple students simultaneously played their cellphone recording of another student’s laughter for a frighteningly good creepy atmosphere.

Paris Catacombs

The Catacombs of Paris

We emerged from the Paris underworld and entered the gift shop, which was full of ghoulish humor and plenty of  skulls on tee shirts, mugs, posters, magnets, you name it.  And there it was…Le Miel de Paris!  Paris honey from the beehives of Les Invalides gardens, L’Ecole Militaire, and the Musée D’Orsay.  Sweetness, for sure!  I was even willing to pay eighteen euros for the tiny jar.

Some people wonder why we would buy honey in Giverny and Paris when we have our own honey at home.  It has to do with terroir.  Just as wines vary not just by grape but by the environment in which they are grown, every honey tastes different.  This French-teaching beekeeper wife came home from Paris with three new scarves, four new kitchen magnets, two jars of French honey, and a sigh of relief that the bees still buzz at Notre Dame.

Paris and Normandy honey

 

 

 

This Little Light of Mine: Beeswax Candles

I recently gifted a dear sister-in-law with two homemade beeswax candles.  This has prompted her to do a blog post about beeswax candles.  And that has been a major kick in the pants for me to share my candle adventure here.

Making candles is so easy!  Just melt and pour.

NOT.

It took me over a year to make two lovingly gifted candles.  It took about an hour to make the actual candles but a year of research and development to create the plan.

The Wax

It begins with beeswax.  I could buy beeswax pastilles online, but I wanted to use the wax from our own bees.

But first, I had to purify the beeswax.  Normally, purifying the beeswax takes an evening.  I melt wax  from our hives in a pot of water, and a lovely disk of cool wax is ready for me in the morning. However, I have begun purifying it twice, because the second go-round results in a much cleaner wax.  Cleaning it twice takes longer, but once the wax is clean, it can be stored indefinitely and is ready for making candles and lip balm.  You can see how I clean my beeswax here.

The Candle Recipe

With clean wax ready to use, I needed to decide on a candle recipe.  Pure beeswax candles would be awesome, but I had a limited supply of beeswax.  And until we have more success with  our beehives, that supply will continue to be limited.  So, I chose to blend two parts beeswax to one part coconut oil. I used processed coconut oil because I did not want coconut to compete with the naturally sweet smell of beeswax. For that same reason, I  chose not to add any fragrance to my candles.

The Container

Starting simple, I planned to make votives.  I have more than a bazillion votive holders leftover from three daughters’ weddings.  In addition, my aforementioned dear sister-in-law gifted me with about a hundred Yoplait Oui! jars last Thanksgiving. I do not lack for jars, but which jars would be best for my candles?  I picked the Yoplait jars because I was planning to give some to my sister-in-law who, as you may have guessed, is addicted to Yoplait Oui! yogurt and the cute little jars.  (For her clever ideas, you can visit her blog Now That You Are Home.)

The Wick

The most important factor in producing a good candle was to determine what size wick I needed for the jars.  This is where R&D got serious.  I ordered a sample pack of wicks from CandleScience.com. The Candle Science website had helpful information about choosing the right wick size.  The extremely helpful information said, “It’s hard to give accurate wick recommendations for Beeswax.” But they offered a sampler pack of ECO pre-tabbed wicks to practice with and the advice that beeswax, burning more slowly, will require bigger wicks than paraffin or soy wax do.

So, with a sample pack of wicks and a variety of jars laid out in a grid on a paper bag, I melted the 2/3 beeswax-1/3 coconut oil in a double boiler that is reserved exclusively for playing with wax.  That took about 45 minutes.  Then I poured the hot wax into wicked jars. That part was wicked easy.

The Test Burn

A very important step came next–test burning the candles. If the wick is too big, the candle will burn too fast.  It the wick is too small, the candle will not burn fast enough and the flame could drown in a pool of melted wax.  Another problem with a too-small wick is “tunneling.” Tunneling happens when the wax does not melt to the edges of the container, so the candle melts down into a hole in the center of the jar with wax still along the sides.  The proper size wick should result in a lovely pool of melted wax to the edges of the container after a two hour burn.

We dined by candlelight that night of the test burn.  Although the candles were systematically laid out on the kitchen island in rows labeled by jar and wick size, the science experiment still cast a romantic ambience over the room.

The Results

All did not go as planned.  I ran out of wax before getting to the correct jar with the correct wick size.  All the candles had wicks that were too small.

I melted some of the candles again and tried with the largest wicks in my sample pack.  It seemed to be a tie  between the ECO 12 and the ECO 14 wicks. I decided to go with the ECO 12.

Being an optimist, I ordered 100 wicks. (Add that to the list of things my daughters will be tossing when I’m dead.)

I  made another, smaller,  batch of candles with this year’s wax.  The yield was four Yoplait Oui! jars.

And I think the wick is too small.

And I think that the Yoplait jar is not the best choice for my  candles.  A straight-sided votive would burn better. And I probably should use a smaller jar.  The  4 oz. Yoplait jar is about the same size as a small Yankee tumbler.

Next year, I will try a narrower jar and/or the ECO 14 wick.

But I would also like to try to find the right wick for a pure beeswax burn.

The R&D continues.